Four things I Learned from a Writing Retreat

By Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first writing retreat. For those of you who aren’t sure what that is exactly, it’s a chance to get away with other writers for a short period of time and simply write without the concerns of home and job.

But it’s more than that. During my week at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I learned so much, it was almost like a mini writing conference! Here are four things I learned from my retreat:

  • 1 – Be Prepared

One of the great things about a writing retreat is actually getting to write! No dirty clothes calling to you from the laundry room, no boss peeking over your shoulder wondering what you’re doing. You just get to write!

But if you don’t know what you’re going to work on, you can waste valuable time. Before each of us left home, we’d each made our goals for the week and set our writing schedule. Some of us planned to get down as many words as possible, some did edits while still others needed to brainstorm scenes. The great thing about planning is we could lay out our goals to each other. For a week, we had live-in accountability partners to cheer and encourage when needed!

Being prepared also means bring those things that make your writing day easier. Need your office chair to be comfortable? Throw it in the back of your SUV! Can’t write without your favorite coffee cup? Pack it in your suitcase! This week is about getting down words, and if you need your Keurig to do that, then do it!

  • 2 – Be Ready to Learn

I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m the world’s most unorganized writer. It’s not unusual to find little piles of books, articles and notebooks laying around our family room on end tables or the floor. The worst part is digging through material takes away from the time I could be blogging or marketing my books.

When I noticed that one of my housemates had a whiz-bang way of organizing her materials, I asked if she could show me more. For the next hour, she walked me through her system, even sending me templates to use that would make my writing go faster. Just a week later, I can tell a huge difference!

But that wasn’t the only thing I learned. Because we had such a wide variety of experience in our group, we shared about writing programs (I’m finally sold on Scrivener! And OneNote—WOW!) and marketing tools that work over dinner or during a break in writing. And because we were together for a week, we could get together one-on-one and talk about what works and doesn’t work, be it in our stories or our writing world, then brainstorm ideas to fix the problem.

  • 3- Be Aware of Other’s Writing Styles

We had two distant groups in our house—the early morning crowd and those who wrote late into the night. The early morning group was generally up by seven and at their computers by eight. It wasn’t unusual that these guys were half-way through their word count by the time the night owls came out of their rooms.

Same thing goes for the night crew. There were many nights I’d peek out of my room to find one of the girls working out in the living room. These differences are reminders of how uniquely and wonderfully made we are. Be respectful of these differences and remember—just because someone goes to bed at nine doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It just means they’ve got to be up at seven to go to work!

  • 4 – Be Open-minded to New Ideas

One of the things I loved about the retreat was the location itself. The Outer Banks plays a part in the next book I’m writing so I had the chance to visit various areas where scenes might take place. But the more I learned about its rich history(did you know there’s a British cemetery there?)the more I found myself brainstorming ideas for other books that could be set there.

So get out and explore for a little while each day. Visit the nearby towns and villages. Talk to the locals. Tell them you’re a writer. You’ll be surprised what you might learn or who might be interested in helping you. I met a lovely lady who owned a small independent bookstore in a village not far from where we stayed who offered to host a book signing for me. A local historian gave me a list of names of people who might be helpful with the research on my next book. Put yourself out there. If you don’t feel comfortable going on your own, see if one of your housemates will go with you. Just think of all the brainstorming you can do in the car on your way!

By the end of the week, everyone had signed up for next year’s retreat. We’d worked, made friends, even been silly at times(ask me about the Russian in the Sound.)I’d barely pulled out of the driveway before I was looking forward to next October!


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Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will
be available in July on Amazon.